Is your wife on Tinder?
A study of online dating apps reveals that a quarter of users are already in a committed relationship
"Only here for a short time. Ethically non-monogamous. Potential vacancy for lover, theatre buddy, or one-off fling." So goes the thoroughly unenticing personal bio of one 39-year-old man I come across during some mindless Tinder swiping on my commute.
In dating app parlance, ethically non-monogamous could be loosely translated as "in a relationship, but greedy". You see, though they were once the preserve of the young, free and single, looking for love - or at least a no-strings good time - dating apps are now hotbeds for those already coupled up, looking for titillation and an ego boost on the side.
According to one recent study of European and American online dating users by Erasmus University in the Netherlands, 25pc of users on Tinder (which facilitates over one million dates in 190 countries around the globe every week) come with many, sometimes hidden, strings attached. Figures for Ireland are unclear, but the study's lead researcher Elisabeth Timmermans said "data from the US seemed to imply that over half of users there are already in a relationship".
Some actively pose as single; some are just browsing for kicks; some, like the chap above, appear to be in open relationships; others are even more explicit: "Yes I'm married, no she doesn't know I'm on here, that's part of the thrill…" read another recent gem. Couples have even been seen with joint profiles, searching for "other connections" to spice up their marriage.
Whatever their story, the Erasmus study found that 'non-single' Tinder users "generally report a higher number of romantic relationships, French kisses, one-night stands, and casual sexual relationships with other Tinder users compared to single Tinder users".
All of which means, if you're single, you could unwittingly find yourself dating a married man or woman. Far worse, of course, is the idea that your spouse could secretly betray you by setting up a profile to talk to (or even meet up with) an endless supply of singles, themselves. You could hypothetically flick through hundreds of Tinder profiles and start up conversations on WhatsApp while your spouse sits next to you. In an era when our entire lives play out on our smartphones, it follows that our affairs are conducted on them, too.
Meanwhile, the internet pitchfork mob has become judge, jury and executioner. Earlier this year, a married man claiming to be from North Dublin was berated online when his Tinder profile went viral. The man posted a topless photograph alongside his request for an extramarital liaison. It was the Moses basket in the background of the photograph that made a fellow Tinder user expose him...
Dublin-based sex and relationship therapist, David Kavanagh, says some of the committed people using Tinder have no intention of cheating on their partners. "They do it for an ego boost or a dopamine injection," he explains. "When we get liked on Tinder, there is a tiny bit of dopamine [a feel-good neurotransmitter] released in the brain - and that can become addictive."
But many more do follow through. Family law solicitor, Nicola Mccinnes, says she is seeing more and more clients filing for divorce after catching their spouse on a dating app. "There has definitely been an increase in husbands and wives going on to an app like Tinder and having a bit of a nosey," she says. "It might just be for a bit of a giggle at first and then it can turn into something more serious. People start looking and before they know it, they're saying things they shouldn't be saying."
Interestingly, Mccinnes sees more husbands who have discovered their wives on dating apps than vice versa (she puts this down to women being "more curious"). She believes that people who turn to apps when they are going through a bad patch in their marriage often see it as an easy, harmless way to test the waters, but that it can all too quickly spiral into a more extreme betrayal.
"It's almost like checking what's out there before you actually do anything. But it's not just like going on Facebook and reconnecting with an old friend because Tinder is specifically a dating app."
Years ago, clients would hand her envelopes with grainy photographs of cheating spouses in illicit meet-ups - now, she is handed USBs filled with screenshots of conversations snatched from their husband or wife's iPad. Some find out through old-fashioned snooping - linking Apple IDs and MyTaxi accounts to shared devices has much to answer for - others through genuinely single friends who have made an awkward discovery. But one person's cheating is another's innocent chatting, so how far is too far? If your husband set up an account and chatted to a couple of people to prop up his ego, but never met up with them - is that grounds for divorce?
Kavanagh says an apparent rise in open relationships has made attached people on dating apps even more of a grey area. "We're living in a very sexualised society," he says, "and a society that doesn't necessarily believe that marriage is for life. What happens then is that somebody tries to solve the problem of a dissatisfied sex life with an open relationship when really they should go to a sex therapist and look at ways to improve their sex life."
Gurpreet Singh, a counsellor for Relate, says the common thread is loneliness. "If there's a gap in the relationship, that's generally what leads to these sorts of things," he says. "Somebody's not feeling completely like they belong in a relationship, and instead of addressing what the problem is in the relationship, they will go outside it and explore their options, because it's that much easier to do. Creating a profile takes minutes. To get a few responses takes minutes. Between motivation and action, there used to be such a long gap, but now, between motivation and action, there is 60 seconds."
One app, Hinge, has recently introduced a function which allows users to give feedback on people they've met up with, meaning you could notify them if your date turned out to be married. But the "We Met" feature is the first of its kind - most apps have no means of sifting out people already in relationships, let alone a way to alert users that someone is posing as single.
It's hard to imagine that beyond that initial ego boost, being chatted up online provides any real gratification, even for the loneliest of spouses. But as Mccinnes says: "Life is quite mundane at times and this is just not real life at all" - and that, surely, is all part of the appeal.